Doc Martin helped bring house music to Los Angeles 30 years ago, and now he's the city's underground king
Now that Memorial Day is in the rear-view mirror, it's officially summertime across the U.S. And what better way to bring in summer than partying in a park bathed with sunlight and good music?
Paradise in the Park is coming to Los Angeles' scenic Grand Park on Saturday, June 1. The event is a creation of house music producer Jamie Jones, who's brought it to many cities such as New York, Toronto and Ibiza to showcase local artists alongside more established acts.
That makes Doc Martin the perfect choice to play Paradise in Los Angeles. Martin, whose real name is Martin Mendoza, moved to L.A. from San Francisco nearly 30 years ago and has been DJing underground house music parties ever since as an early adopter of the acid house genre that swept the globe in the 1990s. He was just highlighted by LA Weekly as the best house DJ/producer the city has to offer.
AOL talked to Martin about his love affair with the City of Angels, how he first discovered house music and helped spread its gospel across California.
AOL: You’re originally from San Francisco, but have lived in Los Angeles for a long time and are associated with L.A. now. What made you move down here?
DM: At that time, I’d done pretty much everything I could in San Francisco. I’d been throwing my own shows and bringing house music artists from New York, London — everywhere around the world. There was nowhere to go forward. I wanted to try something different. I came to L.A. for A Guy Called Gerald, my first warehouse party here. It was amazing, I got the bug. So, I started at the bottom and worked my way up again.
AOL: What’s kept you here for all these years?
DM: It’s a good question, because I actually came to L.A. for a year. And that was in 1990, and I’m still here. (laughs)
L.A. doesn’t agree with everyone, but for me, I really like having the ocean and the mountains nearby. I can go to Vegas from here, or to Mexico. The city itself really appeals to me, too. With Sublevel [Martin's label], we've got a pretty good thing here with our music and our parties. We have a good repertoire here with the people.
AOL: You were recently named best House DJ/Producer of Los Angeles by LA Weekly, and it's not the first time they've recognized you. What does that mean to have that title bestowed upon you?
DM: It’s kind of crazy in a way. When I first came to L.A., not one person knew who I was, really. To go from that obscurity to something like the LA Weekly recognizing you, that is quite an honor for me.
AOL: You’ve been DJing house music for about 30 years — do you remember your first gig and how you got into the scene?
When I first discovered house music, it came through all the gay record stores in San Francisco. No one really knew what it was -- it didn’t have a title, there was no internet. So, we didn't know what was going on in Chicago, New York or London. I just sort of gravitated towards all these records.
There was a promo for "French Kiss" that the local record store got. The record store owner was like, “This is horrible, it doesn’t do anything for me.” And I said, “I want every record that sounds like this.”
It was my hip-hop night on a Monday night, and then at midnight, I just played those house music records at the end. It really perturbed a lot of the hip-hop crowd. Because they were like, what is this stuff? A few weeks of that and people really started getting into it. It kind of blew up, we started doing our own parties in San Francisco.
When I came to L.A., it was on the cusp of blowing up down here in the underground warehouse scene and all these big parties. Then from there, I went and did my residency at Glam Slam for Prince’s nightclub. A bunch of things happened from there. I went on tour with Deee-Lite. A lot of things happened after that opened door.
AOL: Doing a residency in Prince's nightclub and going on tour with Deee-Lite, that's awesome. Do you have any cool memories or stories from that time?
DM: That was quite a blur (laughs). It was really the first time I’d seen the whole United States. To be on a tour bus and start from California and go all the way to the east coast, then up to Canada and everything. It was quite amazing for me and I think it brought an awareness of my DJing to the whole country. This was before social media. Urb magazine did a story that kind of blew things up as well, it was really the only big dance magazine in the U.S. at the time.
AOL: Over your time in L.A., how have you seen the music scene change?
DM: I don’t know if it’s gotten bigger, to be honest, because it was big when I got here. But it was all word of mouth and phone numbers, very underground in that sense. It was very protected as far as having the "right people" coming to the shows. And now it’s just completely blown up, which is great as well because now more people can hear the music and decide for themselves what styles they like. With the internet now, you have access to anything. Before, there was a DJ with the bag of records, and that's what you were getting for the night, no matter how it went.
AOL: Los Angeles might be behind New York, Chicago and Detroit when it comes to cities that are historically associated with house and techno. Do you think L.A. has been overlooked in that sense?
DM: In the past, I would say yes. There wasn’t really a big producer scene here of labels that were pushing that kind of music. In New York, for example, you would have Strictly Rhythm that would grab every aspiring producer and put them out to the world. Same with Chicago and Trax Records, and in Detroit you had various labels doing the same.
In L.A. you haven’t had that as much, where they start a label, grab all the local artists and push them out to the world. But I’m seeing that changing a lot now. There are people coming together, a lot of great producers are from here that people may have overlooked in the past, and they're getting their due worldwide. Also, everywhere I go, L.A. is known as one of the top cities for dance music now. It’s being recognized everywhere.
AOL: Let's go into some quick hits about L.A. now. Do you have a favorite venue to play in the city?
DM: Oh, God. That’s a tough one. I think most of the one-offs like Paradise are the ones that are really special here. I don’t mind playing at the clubs, either. They are bringing in great talent and they deserve to be full here in L.A.
People are probably going to crucify me for this, but I’ve really had an affection for Avalon the last two times I’ve played there. It’s been really great. There have been a lot of people showing up that aren’t the usual crowd that would go there.
AOL: Favorite food to eat in L.A.?
DM: Well, this is like the melting pot of the world. For me, I would say sushi and KBBQ [Korean BBQ].
AOL: Favorite L.A. neighborhood?
DM: You didn’t make these easy!
AOL: Well, when you’ve been here for 30 years, you get a lot of favorites.
DM: That’s the problem. I really do like Venice a lot, even though I probably wouldn’t move there. But I do like the vibe and the people there.
AOL: Favorite L.A. sports team — assuming you’ve converted from San Francisco teams at this point?
DM: I’ll say the Lakers, even though they’re not doing well right now.
AOL: Favorite beach?
DM: (whistles) I’m going to get crucified for this, too … let’s go with Newport.
AOL: And finally, what are you looking forward to this year?
DM: I’m looking forward to doing more festivals. They’ve all been really good this year. I'm really looking forward to going back to New York, that’s like my second and third home. I’m starting some stuff with Space in Miami that should be quite good. I’m putting out a ton of music this year. And then just being involved in some great events here. I can’t wait for Paradise on Saturday, I think that's going to be a monumental event for L.A.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.